Easy bus ride from Gare de Bayonne to St. Jean Pied-de-Port this morning with my fellow travelers. Legend dates the founding of the town to the king of Pamplona in 716. By the end of the 12th century St. Jean Pied-de-Port had become one of the most important towns north of the Pyrenees because of its strategic location at the base of the mountain passes.
A single cobblestone road lined with shops, hotels, guest houses, and restaurants runs through the old section of town. This is the traditional starting point of the French Way to Compestela, and the gathering spot for hordes of modern-day pilgrims.
After dropping off my bags at the Hotel Ramuntcho, conveniently located at 1 Rue de France, I walked a short distance down the road to find the 14th century church. Other than the Bayonne Cathedral, Norte-Dame-du-Bout-du-Pont is the largest Gothic building in the French Basque Country.
I stepped into the darkened space for a quiet period of prayer and meditation, after which I hiked up the Napoleon Route half way to Orisson.
I wanted to scout the road since tomorrow is supposed to be stormy and the way over the Roncevaux Pass may be difficult. There were reports that some hikers had to be rescued yesterday because of the weather. There's an alternative route that goes through Valcarlos which is supposed to be more protected.
I'll get a good night sleep and make the decision tomorrow.
Rainy, windy day here in Bayonne, a historic city located in southwest France known for its maritime trade and chocolate. The Romans, English and French ruled the city over the centuries. Nazi Germany occupied the city during World War Two.
The old quarter still has the look and feel of a medieval town, with narrow streets and some half-timbered houses with exposed beams. This part of town is dominated by the gothic style Bayonne Cathedral, which took 300 years to build - from the 13th to the 16th century. The stained glass windows inside the church are impressive.
The Cathedral is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage as part of the several pilgrim roads leading to Santiago de Compestela. From here, pilgrims arriving from England or western France would continue along the Spanish coast until they reached their destination - the tomb of St. James.
Next to the Cathedral is a cloister built between the 13th and 14th centuries - one of France's largest. The cloister played an important role in city life as a place of prayer and a central meeting place for the city counsel, townspeople, and merchants. Spending a few quiet moments in the cloister will reward you with an amazing sense of serenity and calm.
The Gospel reading this morning was timely: Lord, "you have made known to me the paths of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence." Tomorrow an early morning bus will take me to the point of my departure - St. Jean Pied-de-Port.
Like an old boot, the "road" is a well-worn metaphor often used to describe the hero's journey through life, tragedy, and ultimately self-discovery. Think road and we may imagine danger, adventure, escape, mystery, new possibilities. A pilgrim road adds the element of spiritual quest. The pilgrim longs for something more, something that transcends the ordinary, something that brings him or her closer to God.
The Camino de Santiago de Compostela, or Way of St. James, is one of the oldest pilgrim roads in the world. It's actually multiple routes originating in various parts of Europe, all of which lead to the magnificent cathedral in northwest Spain where legend has it the remains of the Apostle James are buried. Pilgrims have been converging on this holy ground for a thousand years along a route first built by the Romans and later used by the armies of Charlemagne and Napoleon in their various military conquests.
In a few days I'll be one of those pilgrims, starting out in the French border town of St. Jean Pied-de-Port and continuing as long as my well-worn feet will have it.
- From Paris, 4/28/17